Atlanta / Great Smoky Mountains / Dollywood
Stone Mountain, Georgia (USA)
It seems we just can't stay away from the Auties in Largo….. we cheekily did a fly by stop to get more washing done and to plan our next leg in an air conditioned environment. We decided enough of the Gulf already - heavenly white sands with turquoise water beaches are all the same right? We are so going back to the Gulf beaches one day, they are what we have been searching for since going to the Maldives!
Beach for mountain - a different type of beauty. We left Florida (after 7 weeks of paradise) and entered Georgia. Finally arriving at Stone Mountain Park at 8pm that evening. We managed to secure ourselves the best spot in the park - right on the lakes edge. We spent 3 nights here. Its main feature is a solidified molten rock, which stands 600 odd ft high off the ground. When North Africa & America merged 300 million years ago, the friction caused the earth to melt below, the rock solidified, and over the past 100 yrs, the earths' surface has eroded away to expose this great big mound of smooth solid rock. We walked to the top of it and the views over Georgia were just amazing! On the side of the rock they have carved out the faces of the Southern Generals that fought for independence from the North, in the civil war. Steeped in history and by far the best campsite we've stayed in so far.
A short drive from the campsite was the MARTA rail system. We parked the car and hopped on the tube that took us straight to Atlanta downtown. First stop Martin Luther King Jr memorial - amazing! We left feeling emotional, and guilty about our struggle-free existence…. Next stop CNN headquarters, again amazing! Standing in the epicenter of where it all happens was pretty cool. Centennial Park came next, was good to see all the memorabilia of the Olympic games held in Atlanta in 1996. Lastly the home of Coca-Cola….we thought it would be the bottling plant, but it was just a museum. All in all, a good tommy the tourist day had in Atlanta.
After 3 glorious nights at Stone Mountain, we drove past the North Carolina boarder and headed for the Smoky Mountains. We climbed and climbed and after a few miles on the picturesque Blue Ridge parkway, stopped at the highest point of the mountains at nearly 7000ft high, Balsam campsite. The warning of Bears greeted us, put your food away or you WILL have bears visit your campsite…. Balsam sits right on top of the mountains, so we really did feel we were in the sky! The site was VERY rustic, with no showers, no one to welcome us, all we needed to do was pop a cheque for $14 in a box and choose a site…sadly it bucketed down so the afternoon was spent in our tent. The next morning (after no sleep from fear of meeting Yogi…) we put the car into 2nd and let the transmission get us down the very steep mountain, crossing the North Carolina / Tennessee boarder line, arriving at a beautiful campsite called Elkmont. Again we struck it lucky as they had availability right on the river. So tranquil! We spend that afternoon and the next day hiking in the Smokies (Laurel Falls & Little river) - what a beautiful part of America. To complete the perfection that is the Smokies, the fireflies were just breathtaking, watching them fly on either side of the river, flashing like little flash lights was the perfect way to end our stay in the mountains. Only in SA have we seen fireflies, so it made us completely homesick!
We exited the Smokies from the North and entered the tourist trap that is Gatlinburg….good to see, but also good to just drive through with no stopping! If it had a beach, it would be the Blackpool of America! Pigeon Forge, the home of Dollywood, is where we finally set up camp for 2 nights. America's sweetheart of the Smoky mountains, Dolly Parton, robbed us of $117, but I would've paid triple knowing what I know now - I have a whole new respect for this great woman, what she has done for this area and the people of the Smokies will go down in history. If more celebrities learnt how to be this generous, the world would be a better place for sure!
Stone Mountain, The Smokey's, Dollywood done (Georgia, North Carolina & Tennessee) - in love with a Hillbilly! Next stop Virginia and Washington DC.